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From top to bottom: Aaron Krohn as The French Taunter, Anthony MacPherson as French Guard, Jason Sermonia as French Guard and McKinley Knuckle as French Guard in Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Stratford Festival.David Hou/Stratford Festival

  • Title: Spamalot
  • Book and lyrics by: Eric Idle
  • Music by: John du Prez and Eric Idle
  • Director: Lezlie Wade
  • Actors: Jonathan Goad, Jennifer Rider-Shaw
  • Company: Stratford Festival
  • Venue: Avon Theatre
  • City: Stratford, Ont.
  • Year: Runs to Oct. 28

Three cheers to the two unnamed Monty Python members who have stymied, for the time being anyway, a movie adaptation of Spamalot, their comedic colleague Eric Idle’s stage spinoff of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

That mediocre 2005 Broadway musical opened, incongruously, at the Stratford Festival on Wednesday night. In the lead up, Idle told the Toronto Star that a pair of his former collaborators “spent 14 months and £20,000 of our money removing the name Monty Python” from the film project – and that it is now an ex-project.

At a time where “selling out” is a forgotten phrase, it’s actually moving to know a couple of the Pythons – whose influential strain of comedy was born out of risk-taking at their public broadcaster, the BBC – have drawn a line in an IP-obsessed age of endless remakes and reboots and considered their long-term legacy ahead of their bank balances.

A brand is a terrible thing to waste – and that’s something Stratford should be thinking more seriously about if it is to venture further down the slippery slope that’s led to the commercial nadir of Spamalot.

The not-for-profit theatre company – not always highly subsidized, but definitely so in recent years because of pandemic bailouts – has a model that has become overly dependent on bringing in very large crowds to see musicals, to the point where that could be defined as its primary purpose from an audience point of view.

It needs to define an artistic vision on the musical-theatre front that involves at least a little risk or originality. Otherwise, if the classics-inclined repertory theatre doesn’t watch out, it might save itself by replacing itself.

Spamalot, which is getting a perfectly serviceable production directed by Lezlie Wade but is material impossible to really reinvent, is in its own words “lovingly ripped off” from 1975′s Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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Jonathan Goad, left, as King Arthur and Eddie Glen as Patsy.David Hou/Stratford Festival

All the bits from that movie and the 1996 CD-ROM computer game adaptation that you loved deeply as a teenage boy (I may be speaking for myself here) have been transferred to the stage largely intact: The coconut halves clapped together in lieu of horses (expertly clickitty-clacked by panto legend Eddie Glen as Patsy); the dreaded Knights Who Say “Ni!”; the cave guarded by the Rabbit of Caerbannog; et cetera.

Jonathan Goad, a robust actor only rarely seen in musicals at Stratford, gets to loosen his choler in a comedic manner as the irritable King Arthur – who rounds up the Knights of the Round Table to, at first anyway, find the Holy Grail.

In the old-school spirit of sketch, a group of funny guys – all guys – play these knights as well as a variety of small characters. Trevor Patt is the cowardly Sir Robin; Liam Tobin is preening Sir Galahad; and Aaron Krohn, last seen in Stratford as Henry V, is the surprise standout as Sir Lancelot.

Krohn proves to have an excellent knack for quick caricature. I can’t quite believe he made me laugh once more at the French Taunter – whose most quotable line, much repeated in Grade 9, is: “I fart in your general direction.”

The one, main female character is The Lady of the Lake, played by Stratford stalwart Jennifer Rider-Shaw.

In the role that conflates all female roles in the history of musical theatre, she does a wonderful job of imitating a variety of vocal styles from the operatic to the brassy to the gospel-adjacent; it’s a shame the lyrics Idle has penned gives her nothing to make these impressions funny beyond themselves.

Idle and co-composer John du Prez have cobbled together a slew of forgettable songs – timid, parasitic parodies.

One is so lazy lyrically that it’s simply called The Song That Goes Like This. Most are one joke repeated ad nauseum: The sidelined Lady of the Lake re-emerges to sing Whatever Happened to My Part, while King Arthur sings I’m All Alone with Patsy next to him.

This is metamusical of the early oughts at its lowest common denominator – explained by a second-act plot twist in which King Arthur’s God-given quest is transformed into bringing a musical to Broadway.

When Spamalot moved to London’s West End, it was retooled for those circumstances – but it hasn’t been for this production at a not-for-profit Canadian repertory theatre. The song You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews) that was dropped in London isn’t replaced in Stratford, Ont., even though it makes perhaps even less sense in this small Southern Ontario city.

There is eventually some ad-libbing where the actors started dropping a local reference or two that made everything that much funnier; it’s too bad the pandemic pause wasn’t used to initiate deeper spoofing of the specific musical-theatre culture of Stratford.

Instead, Spamalot just feels out of place, taking cheap shots at a Broadway culture that is actually much more creative than what you’ll find in the musical-theatre department at Stratford, which has stayed aloof from the form’s recent Canadian renaissance.

This derivative tribute show was slightly more palatable originally scheduled on a 2020 playbill alongside a brand-new musical called Here’s What it Takes. That the original show is the only musical from the cancelled season not yet to be resurrected, however, only further demonstrates where the festival’s musical priorities are: misplaced.

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